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Flight of fancy


The venerable Wired magazine has surely gone too far with this flight of fancy!  Consider:

  • The zig-zagging lines streaming across the map
  • The redundant white dots, each of equal size, contradicting the black dots, with size proportional to prevalence
  • The inexplicable use of 00, 01, 02, ...
  • The use of a taller column for human cases, when tallied, amounting  to about 1/20 the number for bird cases
  • The inclusion of Australia (with zero cases) while excluding the Americas (also zero cases)
  • Ordering the countries neither by bird nor human cases but by convenience of placement on the map

Redoh5n1As with a previous example, the map adds nothing to the data except for providing a lesson in geography.  We prefer a parallel bar chart, shown on the right.  Here, the continents are given different colors.  In an unusual move, I chose different scales for each side as I am more interested in the distribution among countries, rather than the relative prevalence of bird/human cases.

Reference: "Flight H5N1: Delayed", Wired Magazine, October 2006.


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Jorge Camoes

As always, an image is an answer to a question. If you say "hot spot", someone else asks "where?" immediately. It is not about statistics, is about location. I don't like this particular map, but it answers to the question "where" (forget about the data). Is "where" a relevant question in this specific context?

The bar chart is answering another question: "how do the countries compare?" regarding the avian flu (forget about the location)? Is that a relevant question in this specific context?

Then you can ask "how much" ("how much risk"). None of these images state clearly how risky is to go to that area (area, not country, because it is a fluid thing, you can't confine the flu to the borders of a given country).

Different questions, different answers.

Robert Kosara

The problem with maps is that people think they understand them. There's stuff happening in the world/region/country, so you plot it on a map. Why the lines and additional points? Why didn't they just label the points directly, sparse as they are? I guess it just didn't look innovative enough.

Also, the map doesn't really serve a purpose. There are no patterns of migratory birds, no shipping routes, no additional information that would allow us to connect the dots (haha). And just one dot for a country the size of China doesn't exactly do the country justice, and doesn't help us see what is going on.

On thing I do understand is the reason for the higher bar for humans, though: Human cases are a bit more worrying than a few dead birds.

Chris G

What was the point of the Wired presentation? I agree with Robert - seems like filler material. Without proportionality (birds per human, cases per 100,000 population) it adds nothing - true Junk whether well displayed or not.


I agree the map presentation served very little purpose. The bar charts get to the immediate point. However, if you choose to go with different colors, as you did, for the continents, I think you should have a key.


As I did before when I had to do a graphic about bird flu, I'd also work with a map, but in a different way that Wired did. I don't like the Wired graphic and I think your graph is better, but I agree with Jorge that for the mass media the answer is "where".

Xris (Flatbush Gardener)

It would be interesting to see the individual cases mapped by their geographic location, rather than the aggregates by political boundary. That would better answer the question of "where?"

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